In the early 2000s, superhero movies really began to pick up speed thanks to franchises like Spider-Man and X-Men, and the genre shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
This year alone, two of the highest-grossing movies of all time have came out of the superhero genre. We’re talking, of course, about Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War — which grossed $1.3 million and $2 billion, respectfully, ranking them both amongst the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time (Wikipedia).
Next year alone, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has three more films on the docket with Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home. And if audiences anticipation means anything, it looks like we’re shaping up for another year that is bound to be dominated by superheroes. But if next year is too long of a wait, one can always look forward to Aquaman — the sixth film in DC’s extended cinematic universe which will be out on December 21st.
Of course, one of the joys of watching these types of movies is getting to imagine what we'd do with powers as great as our favorite characters. So let's do just that by checking our superhero movie knowledge and matching with a superpower!
Avengers: Infinity War
Let’s start with the biggest superhero movie of all time: Avengers: Infinity War. The film was released earlier this year and was a culmination of the last ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Infinity War found the Avengers teaming up with the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time to try to prevent the Mad Titan Thanos from acquiring all six Infinity Stones. The film went on to gross over $2 billion worldwide, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of all time (Wikipedia).
The Dark Knight
Often considered the greatest comic book movie ever made, The Dark Knight is the second installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Once again, Christian Bale suited up to play the Caped Crusader, who this time is forced to face off with his most iconic adversary from the comics: the Joker. The late Heath Ledger ended up winning an Academy Award for his performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, which was just one of the many praised elements of this film (Wikipedia).
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the Thor films were the weakest link of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is, until Thor: Ragnarok was released last year. The third film in the Thor series managed to give the God of Thunder a much-needed makeover, which was largely thanks to the off-beat sensibilities of director Taika Waititi. The result was a film that grossed over $850 million worldwide (Wikipedia). Thor: Ragnarok also managed to snag a highly respectable 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film that was responsible for launching the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man was released back in 2008, where it quickly became a surprise critical and commercial success. The film found Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, and the actor received praise for his spot-on portrayal of the lesser-known Marvel hero. The film found Tony Stark struggling with continuing to head-up his father’s company — which supplies weapons around the world — which leads Stark on a crash course with the Iron Monger (Wikipedia).
Released in November of last year, Justice League was the first live-action movie to find the iconic team of DC heroes teaming up on the big screen. The film finds the world still reeling after the Man of Steel’s demise in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, all while a great threat is headed to Earth in the form of Steppenwolf, who brings an army of Parademons with him. The film did not perform as well as many would have hoped, earning $657.9 million at the box office while receiving only a 40% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (Wikipedia).
Despite Spider-Man not getting a mention anywhere on the film, this year’s Venom still managed to gross a highly respectable $851.3 million at the box office. Venom is, of course, an iconic villain from the Spider-Man comics, who has also been an adversary to a number of other Marvel characters as well. However, due to contractual obligations between Marvel and Sony, the web-slinger was not allowed to appear in the film. But that didn’t stop fans from turning out in droves to see Tom Hardy’s incarnation of the symbiote (Wikipedia).
The fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor was released in April of 2011, where it went on to gross nearly $450 million against a $150 million budget. It was the first film to find Chris Hemsworth suiting up as the God of Thunder, and his performance — along with the rest of the film — largely received positive reviews, resulting in a 77% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film follows Thor as he makes an unexpected journey to Earth, all while trying to protect his homeworld of Asgard from destruction (Wikipedia).
With 2016’s Doctor Strange, the Marvel Cinematic Universe arguably introduced their most powerful hero to date. Though Stephen Strange may start the film as an arrogant neurosurgeon, he eventually makes a transition into being a Master of the Mystical Arts after a car accident sends him on a journey of self-discovery. Thanks to his possession of the Eye of Agamotto — which contains the Time Stone — Doctor Strange is able to manipulate time, which is likely to play a vital role in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame (Wikipedia).
Captain America: Civil War
Though it may bear the Captain America title, Civil War touted the most impressive cast in the MCU at the time of the film’s release. The film found the Avengers breaking off into different factions, with Steve Rogers wishing for the superhero team to remain autonomous, while Tony Stark wanting the superheroes to be regulated by the government. The film has set the stage for every MCU movie released since and is no doubt one of the reasons that Thanos succeeded in Avengers: Infinity War.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the first live-action film to feature the two titular characters together in a movie. The 2016 film took place after the events of Man of Steel, which finds an aging Bruce Wayne struggling to accept the fact that a seemingly invincible being like Superman is now living amongst them. While the two heroes come to blows in the film, they eventually team up by the story’s end to try and take down Doomsday. Gal Gadot also made her debut as Wonder Woman in the film (Wikipedia).
While Avengers: Infinity War may have been the biggest superhero movie of 2018, some could argue that Incredibles 2 was the most widely anticipated. It had been nearly 14 years since the original was released after all — which is often regarded as one of Pixar’s best movies. The film picks up with the Parr family as they attempt to revamp their image and once again gain the public’s trust. Incredibles 2 grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide, making it the second-highest grossing animated movie ever (Wikipedia).
Guardians of the Galaxy
By taking the franchise into space, 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy managed to massively shake up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film followed the then largely unknown superhero team as they attempt to prevent the Power Stone from getting in the hands of the wrong people, who include both Ronan the Accuser and the Mad Titan Thanos. A second film in the series was released earlier last year, and a third installment is said to be currently in the works (Wikipedia).
X-Men: First Class
A prequel to the original X-Men trilogy, X-Men: First Class took a look back at the younger years of Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr as they go about forming the earliest incarnation of the iconic superhero team. Inevitably, the two have opposing views about the place that mutants should have in the world, which finds them lining up against each other by the film’s end. First Class managed to massively reignite interest in the X-Men series, which has lead to a number of other prequel films since (Wikipedia).
Ant-Man and the Wasp
The second installment of the Ant-Man franchise was released earlier this year with Ant-Man and the Wasp. The film caught up with Scott Lang as he attempts to finish out his days of house arrest without incident, which came about due to the character’s actions in Captain America: Civil War. But inevitably, he ends up getting caught up with Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne once again, which finds him venturing off into the Quantum Realm — which is expected to play a role in Avengers: Endgame (Wikipedia).
Man of Steel
After being absent from the big screen since the 2006 film Superman Returns, this 2013 served as another reboot to the Superman franchise, all while helping launch a shared universe for DC Comics. Henry Cavill suited up to play the iconic superhero, who struggles to embrace his powers in a world wrought with fear of the unknown. But when one of his kind ventures to Earth with plans of destruction, Clark Kent is forced to suit up as Superman in order to take him down (Wikipedia).
With two Spider-Man franchises and a slew of other superheroes being released since, it can be easy to forget how important the 2002 film Spider-Man was for the entire superhero genre. The movie found Tobey Maguire suiting up to play everyone’s favorite neighborhood web-slinger, who is forced to face-off against the Green Goblin, all while dealing with the loss of his uncle while also struggling to come to terms with his new powers and responsibilities. Following its release, Spider-Man became the seventh highest-grossing movie ever at that time (Wikipedia).
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 may have not been as big of a critical success as the 2008 original, but the film did succeed in helping further established a shared cinematic universe. It was the first film in the franchise to feature Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (AKA Black Widow), as well as find James “Rhodey” Rhodes suiting up as War Machine for the first time. Iron Man 2 found Tony Stark continuing to adjust to his life as a public superhero, which put him in the crosshairs of both Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko (Wikipedia).
Of course, not all superhero movies are based on Marvel or DC comics. This 2000 thriller written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan sought to explore what would really happen if a seemingly everyday person discovered that they had superhuman abilities. The film found Bruce Willis playing David Dunn, a security guard who survives what should have been a fatal train accident in which he is the only survivor. Samuel L. Jackson plays Elijah Price, also known as Mr. Glass, and both actors will reprise their roles in the upcoming film Glass (Wikipedia).
With team-up movies now becoming such a staple of the superhero genre, it’s easy to forget just how much of a big deal 2012’s The Avengers actually was. The film found Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk teaming up for the first time on the big screen after all the characters had already enjoyed their own solo movies in the same franchise. Black Widow and Hawkeye helped fill out the remained of the original line up, and The Avengers went on to be the third highest-grossing movie at the time of its release (Wikipedia).
Many would agree that DC has struggled to launch a successful shared cinematic universe of their own. But their luck really seemed to turn around with last year’s Wonder Woman, which was both a massive critical and commercial success. The film found Gal Gadot reprising her role as Diana Prince, this time to explore the characters earlier days of leaving her homeworld and venturing into the realm of mankind. Wonder Woman grossed over $820 million worldwide while earning a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (Wikipedia).
Often ranked as the best installment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Spider-Man 2 once again found Tobey Maguire suiting up to play the web-slinger, this time to face off against Doc Ock. But while the Green Goblin was very much an outright antagonist in the first film, Doctor Octavius is much more of a sympathetic villain, which makes for an engaging battle between the two characters. The film went on to gross over $783 million worldwide against $200 million budget (Wikipedia).
After spending nearly two decades off of the big screen, Superman made his long awaited return to live-action in this 2006 film. The movie ignored the events of Superman III and Superman IV, and decided to pick up after the events of the critically acclaimed Superman II — serving as both a sequel to the Christopher Reeve franchise while also being a bit of a reboot in its own right. Unfortunately, the film was only a modest box office success (Wikipedia).
The Incredible Hulk
Often the forgotten child of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Incredible Hulk was the second film in the series released only shortly after Iron Man made its debut in 2008. The film was the first and only to feature Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/ the Hulk, as the character has been portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the series ever since. While it is amongst the lesser regarded films in the series, many critics agreed that it was still a much-needed improvement on the character after 2003’s Hulk (Wikipedia).
Before this 1989 film was released, the general public still associated the character of Batman with the corny 1960s TV series starring Adam West. However, this Tim Burton-directed film sought to explore the darker origins of the character from the comics, including those written by comic book writer Frank Miller. Michael Keaton suited up to play the Caped Crusader, which at the time was an unlikely choice due to Keaton’s largely comedic background (Wikipedia). So have you seen this 1989 film?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Where Captain America: The First Avenger was very much a war film, The Winter Soldier proved to be just as much a spy film, which caught up with Steve Rogers as he continues to adjust to life in the present day. After believing to have defeated HYDRA back in World War II before being put on ice, Steve discovers that HYDRA is actually still alive and well — and that the enemy organization is actually working behind the scenes at S.H.I.E.L.D. (Wikipedia).
Though Avengers: Infinity War may have grossed more worldwide, this year’s Black Panther continues to hold the honor of being the highest-grossing movie in the United States of 2018. After the character made his debut two years earlier in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman returned to reprise his role as T’Challa in Black Panther’s first solo outing. The massive success of the film took many by surprise, likely securing the character’s place in the franchise for years to come (Wikipedia).
The ninth installment of the X-Men series, X-Men: Apocalypse was released in May of 2016. Picking up after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past — which reset the entire series timeline — Apocalypse found Oscar Isaac suiting up to play the titular antagonist who is set on rebuilding a world where only the strongest mutants are allowed to survive. Many of the actors from the prequel films ended up reprising their roles here, including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence (Wikipedia).
After his debut as the character was largely criticized in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds returned to play the Merc with a Mouth in this 2016 film, this time, to critical and commercial success. The film managed to capture the offbeat sense of humor and wall-breaking perspective of one of Marvel’s more unusual antiheroes. The result was this movie becoming the highest-grossing film in the X-Men franchise, not to mention the highest-grossing R-rated film ever domestically (Wikipedia). So is there any chance you haven't seen this movie?
Thor: The Dark World
According to Rotten Tomatoes (and many fans of the series), Thor: The Dark World is the worst-reviewed movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though that hardly means it’s a bad film, as it still managed to earn a “Fresh” review with a 66% approval rating. For his second solo outing, Thor finds himself facing off against the Dark Elf Malekith, who is trying to track down the Reality Stone, also known as the Aether. Meanwhile, Loki is back up to his mischievous ways (Wikipedia).
The first film in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman Begins explored the Caped Crusader’s origins in a way that audiences hadn’t seen before. The film follows a young Bruce Wayne who ventures abroad to study martial arts with the League of Shadows. After turning against their leader, Ra’s al Ghul, Bruce returns home to Gotham, where he develops his alter-ego of Batman to help fight the crime wave that’s destroying the city. Christian Bale would go on to reprise the role in two follow-up films (Wikipedia).
After making his MCU debut the year before in Captain America Civil War, Spider-Man was giving his first solo outing with Spider-Man: Homecoming. The film continues to explore Peter Parker trying to balance high school life with being a superhero in NYC. The film feature Tom Holland in the title role, while Michael Keaton serves as the film’s antagonist with the Vulture. Both are expected to reprise their roles in the sequel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which will be out next year (Wikipedia).
After appearing as the character since 2000’s X-Men, Hugh Jackman decided to make his final appearance as Wolverine in last year’s Logan. The film was a departure from most X-Men movies thanks to its R-rating and Western-inspired premise. But the result was one was one of the best-reviewed superhero movies in recent years, which earned a 93% approval on Rotten Tomatoes as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (Wikipedia). So did you get a chance to check out Logan?
The twelfth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the last of Phase Three decided to focus on one of Marvel’s lesser-known superheroes with Ant-Man. The film succeeded in bringing Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang into the fold while also paying respect to the original Ant-Man in the comics thanks to Michael Douglas’s performance as Hank Pym. Unsurprisingly, the film was both a critical and commercial success upon its release, which made way for the sequel which was released earlier this year (Wikipedia).
Before Zack Snyder was shaping the DC Extended universe thanks to his work on Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League, he served as the director on this other DC property. Watchmen has long-been regarded as one of the finest pieces of work in the medium of comic books and graphic novels, and adapting the ambitious story proved to be no small feat. However, Watchmen largely received positive reviews, especially considering how complicated the story was (Wikipedia).
While Spider-Man and X-Men are often cited as the beginning of the modern day comic book movie, many people fail to acknowledge Blade, which came out a few years before either of those films. It’s fair to say that both Spider-Man and X-Men might not have had a future on the big screen if not for Blade, which is also based on a Marvel character. The film managed to earn over $130 million against a relatively modest budget of $45 million. Wesley Snipes suited up to play the half-human, half-vampire in the film and its two sequels (Wikipedia).
Ryan Reynolds is far from the only actor to play both a DC and a Marvel superhero, but he is perhaps the most widely known for doing so. This is likely due to the fact that Reynolds made fun of his performance as Hal Jordan in the Deadpool series, which has proved to be much more of a financial and critical success when compared to Green Lantern. In fact, there were plans for a number of other Green Lantern films had this 2011 had a better showing while in theaters (Wikipedia).
2004’s Hellboy is another comic book movie that often doesn’t seem to get the credit it deserves. The film found Ron Perlman sliding comfortably into the role of the Dark Horse antihero while visionary director Guillermo del Toro helped bring the story of Hellboy to life. The film eventually spawned a sequel four years later. But due to two lukewarm performances at the box office, a third was never made. However, a 2019 reboot is currently in the works (Wikipedia).
X-Men: Days of Future Past
This installment of the X-Men series sought to bring together the original and the prequel series, and as a result, the film ended up resetting the entire X-Men timeline. X-Men: Days of Future Past follows Wolverine as he is sent back in time to try and prevent a catastrophe from ever taking place in the present day. The film received largely positive reviews, garnering a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earning the film over $747 million worldwide against a $200 million budget (Wikipedia).
Of course, not all superheros wear capes or outfits that are skin tight. Sometimes, they just appear as everyday people, which is the case with John Constantine, who enjoyed his first live-action incarnation with this 2005 film. Though the movie differed quite a bit from its source material, many comic book fans were still excited over the iconic DC anti hero getting his own movie. Keanu Reeves suited up for the title role in this dark, occult detective story which was released back in 2005 (Wikipedia).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
If you haven’t yet seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, we certainly can’t blame you, as the film is set for release on December 14th of this year. But if you already have your tickets purchased, or you have every intention of seeing the movie after it comes out, go ahead and consider this film watched. Box office projections for the film are already extremely high, as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has managed to maintain a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 100 reviews and counting (Wikipedia).